Capito talks debt ceiling, MVP, nuclear energy with West Virginia reporters

MORGANTOWN – Sen. Shelley Moore Capito told West Virginia reporters on Thursday that she believes the debt ceiling bill would pass the Senate. And work on the Mountain Valley Pipeline could begin by July 1.

“We are not going to default on our national debt,” she said.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 suspends the debt ceiling for two years, imposes some spending limits and enables completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline that crosses West Virginia into Virginia.

The bill passed the House Wednesday evening, 314-117, with 149 Republicans voting yes, including West Virginia Rep. Carol Miller; and 71 voting no, including Rep. Alex Mooney. For the Democrats, 165 voted yes and 46 voted no.

Senate debate on the bill and proposed amendments proceeded on Thursday, with both Capito and Sen. Joe Manchin giving floor speeches on MVP.

Capito call the bill, with its spending caps, permitting reform measures and the provision for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve the MVP permit within 21 days of the bill becoming law as “a big victory for our state.”

Some Republicans on Thursday were objecting to the limited increase in defense spending, and Capito said they need to dedicate enough of the national priority to defense. But no one gets everything they want in a negotiated compromise. “This is a win and I’m going to take the win and vote for this bill.”

Capito said the debt ceiling bill’s permitting reforms are not as broad as those in her RESTART Act, which included key reforms to streamline the agency review process with enforceable timelines, implement time limits to prevent endless legal challenges, and modernize current laws while maintaining environmental protections.

But it has portions, she said. It includes streamlining the permitting process by having a lead agency receive all the agency reports; it shortens the timeline for environmental assessments and impact statements, though it lacks mechanisms to enforce the deadlines; its agnostic to projects, not favoring one kind over another.

It lacks transmission line permitting measures, she said, which is important for renewables, and doesn’t address judicial review. Regarding MVP, because the Fourth Circuit Court has proved itself biased in repeated rulings about permits, the bill sends challenges about legalities of this bill’s MVP measure to have the Corps approve it within 21 days to the D.C. Circuit.

Capito took a question about pipeline sedimentation and erosion issues raised in court challenges. “I don’t discount that this exists,” she said. But MVP builder Equitrans and its partners need to not just follow the law but make repairs and prepare for worst-case scenarios.

While she doesn’t know when the pipeline work might wrap up and go into service, she said, she expects work could begin by July 1.

Nuclear energy bill

Capito took a question about what’s next for her nuclear energy bill, the ADVANCE Act, which cleared the Environment and Public Works Committee – where she is ranking member – in a 16-3 vote on Wednesday.

The vote is a good indicator, she said, that pursuing more advanced nuclear technology is necessary. She hopes it will go to the floor and then over to the House, which also has been looking at its own legislation.

Among the bill’s measures, it develops and deploys new nuclear technologies, facilitates American nuclear reactor innovation and technology export, preserves existing nuclear generation, improves Nuclear Regulatory Commission efficiency, and addresses nuclear facilities at brownfield sites.

In separate announcements later Thursday, Capito and Machin said Tokamak Energy, a nuclear fusion energy technology company based in Bruceton Mills, was one of eight firms selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to receive grants to fund the first nuclear fusion energy production facilities in the country. The DOE has awarded $46 million across the eight firms to develop pilot fusion energy power plants, aiming to be completed in the next five to 10 years.

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